HomeBlogMaritime Injury ClaimsChronic Benzene Exposure and Maritime Hazards Could Lead to a Jones Act Claim

Chronic Benzene Exposure and Maritime Hazards Could Lead to a Jones Act Claim


Long-term maritime benzene exposure can affect an individual in numerous ways. When the chemical is inhaled over a long period of time, as can happen if you work around cargo containing benzene, serious health problems may arise. If you have become ill after working around maritime hazards on a barge or vessel, you should acquire the services of a Jones Act attorney in Louisiana.

Maritime Benzene Exposure: Overview of a Dangerous Chemical

Benzene, a colorless liquid, is highly flammable and has a sweet odor. It evaporates quickly and tends to dissolve slightly in water. It’s formed from human activities and natural processes, and it is widely used in the U.S., ranking among the top 20 chemicals when it comes to production volume.

Uses include making other chemicals used in:  

  • synthetic fibers;
  • nylon;
  • resins;
  • pesticides;
  • detergents; and
  • plastics.

It is also used for making dyes, different types of rubber, lubricants, detergents, drugs and pesticides.

It’s not uncommon to find benzene in varied amounts in petroleum cargoes, including:

  • gasoline;
  • reformates;
  • gasoline blending components;
  • naphtha;
  • turpentine substitute;
  • special boiling point solvents;
  • crude oil; and
  • white spirits.

Research has proven that benzene is a carcinogen, and individuals exposed to this chemical compound for more than 30 years, or even less than 5, have succumbed to leukemia. Maritime benzene exposure has also caused other short-term and long-term health problems. Simply breathing around this chemical is all it takes to be exposed.

Chronic Maritime Benzene Exposure: Health Problems

Health problems that may result from exposure to Benzene can include  the following: 

  • cancer – the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services has classified benzene as a carcinogen;
  • anemia – Benzene has been linked to aplastic anemia, a life-threatening condition that limits the production of sufficient new blood cells for the body;
  • reproductive problems – Benzene has been linked to infertility in women, decreased ovary size and interruptions in the menstrual cycle; and
  • immune system damage – when benzene harms your immune system, you will be more susceptible to bacterial and viral illnesses, plus allergies.

Common Effects of Maritime Benzene Exposure

Aside from death, breathing in excessive levels of benzene can cause the following symptoms:

  • dizziness;
  • drowsiness;
  • headaches;
  • rapid heart rate;
  • confusion;
  • tremors; and
  • unconsciousness.

Consuming foods and beverages exposed to excessive levels of benzene can also be fatal and cause:

  • vomiting;
  • stomach irritation;
  • sleepiness;
  • dizziness;
  • convulsions; and
  • rapid heart rate.

When an individual is exposed to benzene for a year or longer, the chemical can affect bone marrow, causing anemia. Another effect is excessive bleeding and damage to the immune system, leaving you susceptible to infection.

Benzene Maritime Exposure: Handling Cargo

Although benzene is primarily an inhalation hazard, it also can be absorbed through the skin. Cargo containing this dangerous chemical should be handled with closed operation procedures to reduce exposure. After all, long-term exposure to vapors with a concentration level of only a few parts per million can cause leukemia.

Whenever available, a vapor emission control system should be used ashore as a precautionary measure. Additionally, detector tubes and pumps or toxic analyzers should be used to check vapor concentrations and determine whether protective equipment should be worn around benzene cargo.

Despite having safety measures in place, maritime industry workers could still become exposed to benzene.

If you have been diagnosed with any form of leukemia or other serious illness after working around products containing benzene on a barge or vessel, call a Jones Act attorney in Louisiana to discuss a plan to recover damages.

Taking Precautions Against Benzene Exposure

Precautions should be in place for workers subjected to maritime benzene exposure. This chemical, which has been linked to leukemia and other serious health conditions, can be deadly. If you have been exposed after working around certain cargo, you should make it a priority to meet with a Jones Act attorney in Louisiana.

Maritime Benzene Exposure: Personal Protective Equipment

Under the following circumstances, those working around benzene should be required to wear protective equipment to facilitate respiration:

  • when there is a risk of being exposed to vapors exceeding specified limits;
  • when it’s not possible to monitor the concentration of vapors; and
  • when closed operations are not possible.

Unsafe working conditions mean that your employer may have failed to:  

  • provide protective respiratory equipment;
  • monitor the air for benzene exposure; or
  • required you to work around dangerous products.

Failed protective equipment means that perhaps you were provided with personal safety equipment, but it failed to provide adequate protection and you were diagnosed with cancer. This kind of claim could be filed against your employer and the equipment manufacturer.

It has been proven that benzene exposure, on a ship or anywhere else for that matter, can lead to rare forms of cancer and other serious health conditions, including infertility in women and a compromised immune system.

If you fail to wear protective equipment and inhale high levels of benzene, the result could be rare forms of leukemia, compromised immunity, dizziness, confusion, rapid heartbeat, or death.

If you have been diagnosed with serious health conditions after being exposed to benzene, you may be able to hold your employer liable
. A Jones Act attorney in Louisiana who understands the effects of benzene can help gather the necessary evidence to prove your injury. Because there are deadlines involved in filing a claim, you should call an attorney as soon as possible.

Other Toxic Chemical Exposure

The Department of Health defines a toxic chemical as one that is poisonous or can cause negative health effects. Exposure to toxic chemicals can cause many problems, including:

  • Chemical Burns: A chemical burn happens when certain chemicals, like a strong acid, come in contact with living tissue. Chemical burns occur immediately when the chemical touches the skin. They can be extremely painful and difficult to heal and cause permanent damage.
  • Respiratory and Pulmonary Problems: When a chemical is inhaled, burning and discomfort in the upper respiratory tract begins almost immediately. If the exposure is heavy, the victim may even die from suffocation, obstruction of the airway or heart stoppage.
  • Damage to the Brain and Neurological Damage: Many toxic chemicals can affect the brain. When the brain is deprived of oxygen, brain activity can be slowed, and, in severe cases, the brain stem can be depressed, causing breathing and even the heart to stop.

Toxic chemicals can enter and affect the human body in three ways. Chemicals can be:

  • Inhaled. This is the most common route to toxic exposure. When gasses and vapors are present on the job, the maritime worker who breathes them in may suffer respiratory problems or even systemic problems in which the chemicals cause damage to other organs.
  • Absorbed through the skin and/or eyes. This can happen with chemicals that are solid, liquid or gas. It most often occurs when there is some kind of previous injury or a chemical burn on the skin. However, the eyes are always open to absorption.
  • Ingested. While the least likely of the three, ingestion of toxic chemicals can cause severe damage, even burns, to the stomach, throat, esophagus and mouth.

How seriously the person is injured depends on the dose and concentration of the substance. The risks can be reduced if your Louisiana maritime job site observes well-known safety precautions. Safe work practices, ventilation, protective clothing and protective gear should all be a part of what happens every day.

Most people who are exposed to toxic chemicals will recover, but that recovery may take a very long time. In the meantime, the victim may not be able to continue to work at his or her maritime job. And, in extreme exposures, permanent illness, injury or even death may occur.

Gulf Coast maritime workers are often exposed to toxic chemicals on the job. Such exposures can lead to serious injury and illness. Your employer has a legal obligation to provide you “a safe place to work” under the Jones Act. Yet Louisiana seamen continue to suffer the aftereffects of chemical exposure.

A perfect example of this happened following the 2010 BP oil disaster when many Gulf Coast residents and cleanup workers became ill long after the event itself. In January of 2011, a report came out that detailed the work of Dr. Rodney Soto, a medical doctor from Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Dr. Soto’s findings are disturbing and emphasize the danger of toxic chemical exposure for humans.

Dr. Soto tested and treated many patients who had high levels of oil-related chemicals in their blood in the aftermath of the BP disaster. In every patient he tested, he found extremely high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). He said, “I’m regularly finding between five and seven VOCs in my patients.” These patients included “people not directly involved in the oil cleanup, as well as residents that do not live right on the coast.”

One woman, who was young and good health, visited the beach and within weeks developed respiratory problems and cancer. Another of Dr. Soto’s patients, a BP cleanup team foreman, was found to have chemicals from both the oil and the cleanup operation in his bloodstream.

In fact, the 1.9 million gallons of toxic dispersants used after the spill are banned in at least 19 countries because of their dangers to human health.

Dr. Soto says he is very concerned about the long-term effects of this chemical exposure because symptoms can develop over years. “I am concerned with the illnesses like cancer and brain degeneration in the future,” Soto said, adding his concern that the chemicals can create “tremendous implications in the human immune system, hormonal function, and brain function.”

If you or a loved one suspects toxic chemical exposure, either as a Gulf of Mexico maritime worker or a resident of the area, you should have your blood tested for VOCs. A positive diagnosis may entitle you to compensation from the company responsible for your illness.

Contact a Jones Act Attorney in Louisiana

The Jones Act law provides you with certain protections your employer may not want you to know about. A Jones Act attorney from The Young Firm in New Orleans, Louisiana, can help you if you have suffered boating accident injuries, an offshore accident or other injuries that fall under maritime law. Though we are based in Louisiana, we are ready and able to help injured victims throughout the U.S. Order our free Maritime Injury Law guide and/or our guide to what to do when you are injured offshore to learn all about your rights as an injured worker.

When you are ready to get started with your Jones Act injury case, we urge you to contact us today for a FREE case evaluation – call toll-free at 1-866-703-2590.



have a question?